- White Sand, Black Beach: Civil Rights, Public Space, and Miami's Virginia Key by Gregory W. Bush
In White Sand, Black Beach: Civil Rights, Public Space, and Miami's Virginia Key, Gregory W. Bush investigates the history of Virginia Key Beach Park as a lens to explore the civil rights struggles of African Americans in Miami, Florida, and to examine how and why public spaces and access to them are a civil right. According to Bush, this book is a "hybrid" that follows two points of inquiry through seven chapters and an afterword (p. xi). The first is a historical analysis where Bush evokes the long civil rights narratives of historians such as Jacquelyn Dowd Hall and Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore. Since the early twentieth century, black Miamians had struggled for access to the coast; they were successful in the waning days of World War II, when the direct-action protests of local black people led to the opening of the segregated Virginia Key Beach for black beachgoers. For the next two decades, African Americans looked to Virginia Key Beach as a triumph of the civil rights fight and used it as a gathering location for leisure, celebrating, and building community solidarity. With the passage of federal civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s, however, Virginia Key's meaning to African Americans changed, as many began to view the beach as a relic representing a painful past of second-class citizenship. In the mythic post–civil rights period of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the importance of Virginia Key to community solidarity diminished and its significance to the civil rights' struggle lessened, and the beach suffered from ongoing threats of commercialization until, according to Bush, activists began to use extensive oral histories to reclaim the space and history of Virginia Key Beach for the community.
The author's second point of inquiry, woven throughout the book, is personal memory or civic engagement. Bush layers his historical analysis of Virginia Key Beach with his argument that a connection to the natural world is not only necessary but also vital to the growth and health of communities. Poor land management, racism, politics, global capitalism, and even the silencing of local voices are at the heart of the economic and environmental injustices suffered by ordinary people and local communities in Miami and elsewhere. [End Page 220] Land, according to Bush, "is the ultimate resource that social power depends on" (p. 256). Challenging injustices, then, requires increased public engagement by ordinary people and is accomplished in a variety of ways. For Bush, reclaiming the history of Virginia Key Beach and staking a claim to public spaces are two of the best ways to build solidarity among a diverse group of people and to ensure equity for all community members.
For scholars seeking a solid history that traces the importance of public spaces to civil rights struggles in the South, Bush's narrative offers a welcome addition to literature on public accommodation and transportation challenges. Bush reminds us that leisure and public spaces served and continue to serve important purposes in the fight for racial equality. The history of Virginia Key Beach not only reveals the fraught history of African Americans in Miami but also serves as a lesson in the complex history of civil rights in the late twentieth century. If the narrative falls short, it is when the author focuses on his second point of inquiry on civic engagement in the recent past. Although Bush's source material in this area is vast, his argument for establishing a connection with the natural world and his descriptions of his own experiences with disputes over land management in Miami sometimes detract from understanding the evolution and importance of Virginia Key Beach in the long civil rights history of Miami.